Bendigo import all about team spirit

Bendigo import all about team spirit

Spirit star Kelsey Griffin is all about winning – and her coach Bernie Harrower couldn’t be happier.

By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters

Recruiting a superstar import requires intimate knowledge of basketball, hours poring over tape and massive phone bills running character checks, right? Wrong.

“It came about by accident, really,” Spirit coach Bernie Harrower said when asked how he landed two-time Grand Final MVP Kelsey Griffin.

With import Kathleen Scheer lame, Bendigo were short-staffed on the eve the 2012/13 season.

“It worked out that Chelsea Aubry had played with Kelsey at Nebraska,” Harrower said.

“Chelsea gave Kelsey a call. About that time was the downturn in Europe and she hadn’t picked up a European contract, and it all just fell into place from there.

“She actually came a little bit sight-unseen but Chelsea, being the person she is, spoke extremely highly of her.”

Lanard Copeland’s horrendous first training session with the Melbourne Tigers in 1992 is now part of Australian basketball folklore, but Griffin had no such issues.

“We put some stuff in she hadn’t seen before and she picked it up straight away like she’d been with us for two or three years and knew our system inside-out. She was very adaptable and on the money right from the word go,” Harrower said.

“We just could not wait to get her in the line-up, but funnily enough we had won six games without her and the first game she played we lost.”

Things have been on the rise ever since, Bendigo winning 57 of their next 70 contests – and two Wattle Valley WNBL championships – leading into this year’s decider in Townsville.

Harrower is not at all surprised by what Griffin has achieved individually and for the Spirit.

“She’s the type of player where it’s not about her – it’s about winning. And from my point of view you couldn’t ask for a better import than that,” he said.

“She works extremely hard on her fitness, extremely hard on her shot and her moves. She’s not satisfied with being a great player in our league, she wants to be the best possible player she can be.”

For that reason, Harrower also wouldn’t be surprised if Griffin achieved some even greater milestones in her career.

“For me, that’s what makes superstars, the people who aren’t willing to settle … but are striving to be better – and she’s one of those players,” he said.

“Sometimes you’ve actually got to try to pull her back a little bit rather than trying to get her to go and do something.”

Griffin’s battle with Cayla Francis will be crucial in deciding this year’s champion, and Harrower said it was no coincidence the Fire had prevailed in the two match-ups where their Opals star has fired.

“She’s a bit of a key to their success,” he said.

“She’s a hard match-up – she’s athletic, runs the floor well, she hits the three, plays reasonably tough inside – and then when you try to score against her that extra length is a difficult match-up.

“In saying that, when Kelsey’s actually been matched up on her she’s done quite well.”

But win or lose, Harrower said Griffin had a home in Bendigo for a long time to come.

“The answer to that (how long she’ll play for the Spirit) is, for as long as she wants to be with us,” he said.

“The people here in Bendigo love her. She’s such a likeable person, she speaks to everybody, she’s never got a frown on her face – maybe after a few referees’ calls here and there – but other than that she’s always got a smile.”

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